National Heritage Corridor
mosaic sculptures celebrate something few people know. Chicago owes its greatness to a canal built over 150 years ago.
Generations of French fur traders and American travelers―nation builders―dreamed of connecting Lake Michigan with the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. The Illinois & Michigan Canal, begun in 1836 and completed in 1846, provided the critical link. The 97-mile I&M Canal became the water highway that opened the Midwest to commerce in the mid-nineteenth century.
Laid out by canal commissioners at the eastern end was a town called Chicago. When the canal opened, the tiny village sprouted into the most important city of the American Midwest.
The canal closed in 1933, but its legacy continues to shape Illinois. In 1984, recognizing the canals pivotal role, Congress designated the canal region as the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor. The old I&M Canal is now a place to ride bikes, hike, and paddle canoes. It's a place to reconnect with the beauty of prarie landscapes and small-town Main Streets and rediscover the region's rich history.
Discover the I&M Canal Corridor
The I&M Canal began 5.5 miles southwest of here, in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. The I&M Canal Origins Park, located where the canal met the Chicago River, provides an opportunity to get acquainted with the history of the city. Be sure to visit the canal's locks and aqueducts, which are still found along the Heritage Corridor. Don't miss the last two surviving canal-side warehouses―the Gaylord Building, in Lockport, and the LaSalle County Historical Society Museum in Utica.
Enjoy Trails and Nature
You can hike, bike, fish, picnic, camp, boat, and golf in the Heritage Corridor, a national park in Chicago's backyard. The 61.5 mile I&M canal State Trail is a great starting point, passing through historic towns, forest preserves and rural landscapes.
Enjoy the ancient canyons of Starved Rock, the grasslands of Goose Lake Prairie, and the ravines of the Palos Forest Preserve. Watch for heron and egrets that fly along the waterways, and roost in rookeries at Lake Renwick. Stop at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the Chicago region's newest wildlife sanctuary on the grounds of the former Joliet Army Arsenal.
Step Back in Time
The I&M Canal towns outside Chicago still show their nineteenth century charm. Visit Main Street shopping districts and enjoy a variety of specialty stores. See historic churches, city halls, homes and storefronts. Discover the unexpected―an ornate movie palace in Joliet, or a grain elevator turned visitor center in Seneca.
Learn of the coral reefs that once covered the area. Trace the history of the region's many Native American tribes and discover the rich history of the immigrant groups that shaped America.
Twelve Visitor Centers in the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor are starting points for excursions.
Call 1-800-926-2262 for more information.